In case you missed it – yesterday, I posted the first half of a list of thirty-five meditations on reading, writing and my life in books. Why? Because I’m turning thirty-five, and birthdays make me nervous. If you’re yet to read part one, click here to take a look.
As promised, here’s part two…
19 – I think the second part of this post deserves a soundtrack. Here’s one of my favourite bands, singing about books:
20 – The first line of that song mentions a “rainbow bridge“. If my favourite bookish song actually turned out to contain a reference to a favourite passage in one of my favourite books – E M Forster’s Howards End – that’d pretty much make my life complete. Actually, I’m rather obsessed with Forster’s writing – it’s really best not to get me started because I won’t stop. Twee? Yes, totally. But I love all things twee.
(Let’s just say my wardrobe contains a lot of cardigans…)
21 – Writing about books is absolutely terrifying. I didn’t realise before I started. Fiction gives the shy writer somewhere to hide. Criticism, not so much. Having an opinion about something and the courage to push it out into the world and stand next to it and say yes, this is mine is a big, nerve-wracking thing. I often wonder what I was thinking when I started this blog…
22 – Yes, I should be reviewing books instead of writing long, self-indulgent blog posts. The thing is, when I think about the blogs I enjoy reading (see the Required Reading sidebar on the main page of this blog) many of the posts that have stopped me in my tracks have been the ones where the blogger reveals something about themselves – something new and unexpected. Criticism is interesting in and of itself, but I can’t resist the chance to take a little glimpse behind the curtain.
23 – Qualities I look for in a book: earnestness, intelligence, elegance. Subtlety. Frailty. I can’t resist narratives that are like puzzles. Or stories that are in some way implausible or even awkward – the pieces don’t all quite fit together. I like books that are playful as well as books that are serious and intense. My taste contradicts itself. Which reminds me – I also like books that contradict themselves.
24 – This blog exists because of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I read Tess for the first time just before I started blogging. When I wasn’t reading Tess, I was thinking about it. I didn’t just read that book, I consumed it whole. Then, afterwards, I put it back on the shelf. I looked at the shelf. And I thought about what a horrible shame it was that I didn’t know anyone I could talk with about Tess of the D’Urbervilles; that there wasn’t some way I could let other people know how much I’d enjoyed Hardy’s masterpiece.
25 – My high school English teacher introduced me to Hardy. I was impressed by The Mayor of Casterbridge, so he recommended Jude the Obscure. I was sixteen or so and skeptical, convinced that all old books were dull and boring. In other words, I was an insufferable brat. Jude the Obscure blasted much of that away, convinced me to try new (well, old) books. It was the book that turned me into a reader. Before Jude, I didn’t realise literature could be that powerful.
26 – I grew up in a small country town. When I went from my little primary school, where everyone knew everyone else’s name, to one of the largest high schools in the area, I was completely overwhelmed. I spent a lot of time in the library. While I was familiar with the books in my primary school library, the books in the library of my high school were all new and fascinating to me. One of my first library discoveries was Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. The covers were truly hideous, but for some reason, that didn’t put me off. For my first confused weeks in a big, unfamiliar place, these books comforted me. I’ve re-read them many times since, along with a lot of Le Guin’s other fantasy and sci-fi novels. She’s one of my all-time favourite writers.
27 – Actually, while on the subject of high school libraries, why did my high school library have the Clan of the Cave Bear books? I have no idea who was responsible, but those books taught me much more than our “Human Relations” classes ever did. Yikes. By the way, I read a lot of dreck in my early teens. I spent an embarrassing amount of time in the company of Stacey, Mary Anne, Dawn, Kirsty and Claudia.
28 – Yes, I mentioned a genre author back there in point 26. Well spotted. I’m really not a literary snob, I just haven’t reviewed many genre novels here on my blog. Yet. They’re difficult to write about. So I don’t have to explain why, here’s a big picture of China Mieville. My relationship with genre fiction is complicated, okay?
29 – I read so many fantasy novels in my teens and early twenties that, to this day, I can’t resist a book with a map at the front.
30 – A little bit of the reason why I moved to Sydney was Ruth Park’s Playing Beattie Bow.
31 – I’m really glad Harry Potter wasn’t around when I was a child. I’d have been absolutely devastated when my Hogwarts letter didn’t turn up. Serious, industrial strength therapy would have been required.
32 – One final moment of nostalgia before I move on. As a child, the ending of Roald Dahl’s The Witches left me stunned. Even just thinking about it now, as an adult, I get goosebumps. I enjoyed all of Roald Dahl’s books as a child, and I’ve read some of his short stories for adults too. My Dad isn’t much of a reader, but his favourite was always Danny, The Champion of the World.
33 – I haven’t even mentioned non-fiction yet. I was one of those people (read: complete jerks) who mistrusted feminism. That changed when I read The Second Sex over the course of a single, intense weekend. That book changed my life. I’ve read some of de Beauvoir’s fiction since, and I’m looking forward to reading more. I quite simply worship her.
34 – The top two questions people ask me when they find out I like reading: “Oh, so you’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey then? Herrr herrr herrrr!“. (Answer: no, I haven’t, nor do I have plans to – why should I?). Or “What’s your favourite book?”. What, just one? I find that question particularly exasperating. I could name many favourite books. Maybe one day, I’ll put together a top ten. No, twenty. Or maybe thirty. What about a top fifty?
35 – Last question. Let’s return to the here and now. Right now, I’m in the middle of Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. It’s ridiculously good. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but whoever it was, thank you. I found it on my last excursion into a bookshop – I’d completely forgotten what book I was there to buy in the first place (see point 16), and I found the title and author written down in a note on my phone. Remarkable Things is so amazingly dense that I can only read a couple of pages in a sitting without feeling overwhelmed and giddy. It’s like literary cheesecake. I’m actually putting off reading more because I don’t want it to end – it’s that good.
Remarkable Things is the perfect expression of everything I love about reading. I couldn’t think of a better way to chase away the birthday blues.
Which brings me back to where I started. I’m thirty-five today. As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, when I think about the past, I think of it in terms of the books I’ve read. Similarly, when I think about the future, I think about the books I’m planning to read; that enormous pile of books I’ve accumulated over time. I think about all the literary discoveries that are waiting for me…
It’s about time I got on with it, don’t you think?
Thank you for reading. Now, if you’d excuse me, there’s a cake here with my name on it.